Tag Archives: rare books

Rare Books about Baseball Are a Home Run!

The first book devoted exclusively to the sport of baseball was The Base Ball Player’s Pocket Companion, published in Boston in 1859. Since then America’s love of baseball has continued to grow, establishing the sport as America’s pastime. Now baseball is also the most popular subject among collectors of rare books in sports. Because of the breadth of baseball literature, most collectors of rare baseball books narrow their focus to a specific aspect of the literature or sport.

Early History

The game of baseball has evolved considerably since its beginnings. Consider, for instance, that there were originally two sets of rules for baseball: one from Boston, and the other from New York. Thus books from baseball’s early history are often quite fascinating, detailing a sport that varies widely from the one we know today.

Beadle's Dime Base-Ball Player

Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player


Spalding's Base Ball Guide

Spalding’s Base Ball Guide

Hidden Histories

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League began during World War II and operated from 1943 to 1954. The history of this league and its players don’t receive much attention today, but the league was quite popular at the time. Meanwhile, both the Negro Leagues and African-American players were frequently overlooked; few books exist about either before the 1970′s. One notable exception is Sol White’s Official Base Ball Guide (1907), sometimes called the “holy grail” of baseball book collecting because it’s so scarce. It’s both challenging and engaging to build a collection around these hidden histories in baseball.

“Get that Nigger off the Field!”

Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues

Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues

Regional Leagues

As baseball’s popularity spread, smaller leagues began popping up all around the country. Although these leagues may not have boasted star players, they offered one means of local entertainment. Teams were sometimes formed around occupation or work location, as illustrated by the photograph of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Baseball Team.

New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Baseball Team

New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Baseball Team

Official Baseball Program-Pacific Coast League, 1934 Season

Official Baseball Program-Pacific Coast League, 1934 Season

Middle Atlantic League 25th Anniversary Souvenir Book

Middle Atlantic League 25th Anniversary Souvenir Boo

Biographies and Autobiographies

In the early days, baseball players were frequently illiterate. Their autobiographies were therefore frequently ghostwritten. Both autobiographies and biographies were also “cleaned up”; they tended to be much more inaccurate than modern biographies, sanitizing the players’ lives to make them more acceptable to middle-class readers.

Mickey Mantle of the Yankees

Mickey Mantle of the Yankees

Baseball Fiction

Likely the first novel primarily devoted to baseball was Noel Brooks’ Our Base Ball Club (1884). The genre has grown considerably. It includes dime novels, comic books, and modern first editions. Some collectors focus on a particular series, while others explore the limits of baseball fiction and collect a wider variety of examples.

The Big League

The Big League


Double Curve Dan the Pitcher Detective

Double Curve Dan the Pitcher Detective

The Pick-Up Nine

The Pick-Up Nine

How-To Guides

With the establishment of official rules and leagues, the art of playing baseball became much more standardized. That certainly didn’t mean that opinions never differed on the right form and approach for skills like pitching, batting, and fielding.

Spalding's Baseball for Beginners

Spalding’s Baseball for Beginners


The Science of Baseball

The Science of Baseball

Individual Teams

If you love to “root for the home team,” it makes sense to build your baseball collection around them. You’ll likely find a wealth of programs, statistics, and score cards. Some items, such as the New York Giants’ Press Radio TV from 1956, include a list of players, schedules, and statistics. A collection built around a single baseball team also encompasses biographies and memoirs from team players.

Press Radio 1956-Giants

Press Radio 1956-Giants

New York Giants 1954 Training Season

New York Giants 1954 Training Season


Regardless of your area of expertise, it’s important to learn all you can about the rare books of baseball, and about your specialization. And that means one thing: getting the right bibliography! A terrific place to start is David Block’s Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (1995). In addition to offering a great print history of the game, it also has a bibliography of pre-1850 books that treat baseball in some way. For baseball fiction, you’ll want Andy McCue’s Baseball by the Books (1991). And a more general bibliography is Myron Smith’s Baseball: A Comprehensive Bibliography (1986). Smith has since published supplements to include later material.






A Brief History of True Crime Literature

True crime literature is unique because, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, the genre has “always been enormously popular among readers…[and] appeals to the highly educated as well as the barely educated, to women and men equally.” The popularity of true crime literature extends to the rare book world.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

The literature of true crime dates all the way back to the Elizabethan era, but the genre didn’t enter the mainstream until the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It its earliest form, true crime literature included biographies of prisoners before and after executions. In some cases, these accounts were factual, but they were just as often completely fictionalized–and almost always sensationalized. These gave rise to fictional criminal autobiographies, notably The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1721) by Daniel Defoe. Domestic dramas such as George Lillo’s The London Merchant; or, The History of George Barnard (1731).

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray

The second half of the eighteenth century saw a sharp decline in crime literature, but the genre reasserted itself in the nineteenth century. Factual reporting, in the style of Francis Kirkman’s The Counterfeit Lady Revealed (1673), again came into vogue. The Newgate Calendar published criminal biographies starting in 1773, and it was periodically published before finally being compiled in 1841. In the United States, the National Police Gazette was launched in 1845 and remains in publication today. Meanwhile leading literary figures also began to address issues of crime and punishment. Charles Dickens included studies of Newgate and the Old Bailey in his Sketches by Boz, and William Makepeace Thackeray wrote “Going to See a Man Hanged” (1840).

Perhaps the most influential was “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,” two essays Thomas de Quincey published in Blackwood’s Magazine (1827 and 1839). De Quincey explored the Radcliffe murders of 1811, which were presumably committed by mariner John Williams. He delved into the psychology of the murderer, victims, and witnesses in a way that no other author had attempted before. Oscar Wilde followed suit in “Pen, Pencil, and Poison” in 1889, when he argued that Thomas Griffith’s creativity improved when he began taking out life insurance policies on relatives, whom he then poisoned with strychnine. These seminal works paved the way for modern works like Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966).

Crime in fiction had taken a turn for the low brow; starting in the 1820′s the so-called “Newgate novel” romanticized the lives of criminals, depicting highwaymen as heroes–even when their exploits ended at the gallows. Thackeray would parody Newgate novels in several of his works and publicly attach their authors, but the works still flourished. GWM Reynolds, for example, published Mysteries of London from 1845 to 1848, with sequels to 1856. The books, which sold for one cent, came to be known as “penny dreadfuls.”

Sherlock Holmes

The iconic Sherlock Holmes

The 1830′s saw the development of the modern police force–with detectives to investigate crime and constables to enforce order–in both England and the United States. For this we can thank, among others, author and magistrate Henry Fielding. Soon these men of the law popped up as characters in fiction: Inspector Bucket in Dickens’ Bleak House (1853) and Sergeant Cuff in Collins’ The Moonstone (1868), respectively based on real-life Scotland Yard detectives Charles Field and Jack Whicher. Poe invented a more complex detective in his C. Auguste Dupin character, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle debuted Sherlock Holmes in 1887. Four years later the detective began making regular appearances in Doyle’s Strand Magazine.

In the last century there has been a markedly decreased overlap of true crime and literature. But the genre of true crime writing remains quite popular, and many rare book collectors build entire collections around the genre. There are plenty of interesting items for collectors of true crime literature and ephemera.

The Confessions of Jesse Strang

Originally from Putnam County, New York, Jesse Strang deserted his wife when he suspected that she’d been unfaithful. After a stint in Ohio, Strang made his way to western New York–where he faked his own death in the spring of 1826. Strang ended up in Albany, where he used the alias of “Joseph Orton.” He saw Elsie Whipple in an Albany bar and was immediately interested in the spirited young woman. Elsie was the daughter of a wealthy family in Albany, and Strang managed to get hired as a handyman at the family’s estate, Cherry Hill–where Elsie lived with her husband, John. But that didn’t stop Strang from pursuing Elsie, and the two were soon exchanging love letters with the assistance of other members of the household.

Cherry Hill-Jesse Strang

Cherry Hill as it looked at the time of the murder

Elsie, known for being moody and tempestuous, decided that the lovers should kill John and run away together. Strang was reluctant, but ultimately supplied Elsie with arsenic to poison John. But she didn’t administer enough poison, and John merely suffered an upset stomach. The lovers clearly needed a more foolproof plan, and Elsie urged Strang to shoot John. Eventually he acquiesced, climbing onto the roof and shooting John through a window into the couple’s quarters. Elsie had removed the curtain to give Strang a clear shot. Strang rushed to a local store to give himself an alibi, then returned and even helped the doctor remove the bullet from John’s body. But the police ruled that Strang had enough time to commit the murder and make it to the store, so he was arrested. He immediately confessed and implicated Elsie.

Strang desperately asked his lawyer to plant papers at Cherry Hill implicating Elsie as the mastermind of the plot, arguing that Elsie would receive a lighter sentence because she was a woman. His lawyer refused, but Strang was correct. While he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging, Elsie was found not guilty on all charges. Between 30,000 and 40,000 people came to watch Strang’s execution on August 24, 1827. Among the crowd were peddlers hawking pamphlets containing Strang’s confession. Strang himself promoted the pamphlet from the scaffold, saying, “This contains a confession of the great transaction for which I am about to die, and every single word that it contains, tot he best of my knowledge, is true; if there is a single word in i t that is not true, it has been inserted by mistake, not by design.” Strang’s hanging was botched, and his neck did not break. He hung for half an hour before suffocating. It was the last hanging in Albany.

Official Report of the Trial of Laura D Fair

On November 3, 1870, Laura D Fair followed Alexander Parker Crittendon onto a ferry, where he was meeting his family. Fair shot Crittendon in the chest with a pepperbox pistol and fled to the ship’s saloon, where she immediately confessed to her crime. Fair believed that she was defending her own name; Crittendon had represented himself as single when he began courting Fair, and when she discovered that he was married, Crittendon promised to divorce his wife. When he failed to follow through, Fair decided to exact revenge.

Laura D Fair

Laura Fair

The ensuing trial was a national sensation. Fair’s defense argued that Fair had experienced delayed menstruation (in part because she assumed a masculine role by running her own business), which resulted in temporary insanity. Suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony took up the cause, noting that “female hysteria” had long been used to subjugate women to men. Prosecutors also focused on gender, portraying Fair as a man-hungry murderess whose temporary insanity could also have been caused by sexual excess. Fair was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but the trial was overturned because evidence had been incorrectly admitted. After a second trial, Fair was acquitted.

The case remained in the headlines intermittently from June 1871 to January 1873. Mark Twain and his collaborator Charles Dudley Warner would incorporate the case into Twain’s first novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of To-Day, published in December 1873: Laura Hawkins bears a striking similarity to Laura Fair. Twain also incorporated another famous trial; the Senate investigation of Senator Dilworthy for vote buying parallels the real trial of Kansas Senator Samuel C Pomeroy. Both critics and historians agree that these sensational elements greatly contributed to the novel’s success.

Ruth Snyder’s Own True Story

Ruth Snyder

Snyder and Judd Gray conferring during a break in the trial

In 1925, housewife Ruth Brown Snyder began an affair with married corset salesman Henry Judd Gray. She soon began planning her husband, Albert’s murder, with only reluctant support from Judd Gray. Snyder reportedly made seven attempts to kill her husband. Finally, she and Judd Gray garrotted Albert, shoved chloroform soaked rags up his nose, and staged a burglary. Their ploy fell apart under only the slightest scrutiny, and they were both convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Ruth would be the first woman executed at Sing Sing since 1899, and the first ever to be executed by electrocution.

The murder trial was covered by a number of prominent journalists, but only one was granted an interview: Jack Lait, who would provide Ruth the typewriter she used to record her memoir. Ruth Snyder’s Own True Story (1927) proved a poignant and candid account of Ruth’s experience–and a useful bit of propaganda for Lait. In the preface, he writes that Ruth “bristles with courage, she has poise, assurance, no end of intelligence…she loves like fire and hates like TNT.” (With such a portrayal, it’s perhaps no wonder that Ruth received 107 marriage proposals before her execution!) At Ruth’s execution, Chicago Tribune photographer Tom Howard captured her final moment with a miniature camera strapped to his ankle. The image, now famous, was emblazoned on the front page of the New York Daily News the next day.

Our interest in rare books about true crime shows no evidence of fading, especially since the genre so frequently intersects with the worlds of history and literature. How has true crime crept into your book collection?


Astronomy, Astrology, Potato, Po-tah-to?


From ‘The New Astrology’ (1786)

Since the Neolithic age, humans have attempted to track lunar cycles and understand their relationship with natural phenomena like the changing tides. From these rudimentary attempts, the fields of astrology and astronomy were eventually born. The two disciplines evolved together, but our changing understanding of the universe has relegated astrology to the world of superstition and folklore. The world of rare books offers an interesting glimpse into these parallel studies.

An Ancient Science

Astrology evolved from our desire to better understand changing seasons, weather patterns, and other natural phenomena. It proved useful in agriculture, and astrological predictions were soon applied to other aspects of life. Eventually kings and emperors even had astrologers as The first evidence of astrology as a discipline comes to us from the Babylonians. The Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa, compiled in Babylon around 1200 BCE is one of the oldest known astrological references. For almost 2,000 years, astronomy and astrology were synonymous. Astrology was introduced to the ancient Greeks around 400 BCE. Respected thinkers like Plato and Aristotle incorporated astrology in their works, giving it credibility. The Romans eagerly adopted astrology, and the practice endured through the ages.

It’s from the Romans that we get our modern-day names for the signs of the Zodiac, which means “circle of animals” in Greek. Early astrologers knew that it took twelve lunar cycles (now known as months) for the sun to return to its original position in the sky. They then identified twelve constellations that were linked to the progression of the seasons and assigned these the names of animals or figures. For example, during the rainy season, the corresponding constellation was Aquarius, which means “water bearer.”

Horoscope charts relate the position of the sun, moon, planets and stars to a particular time, place. Astrologers don’t use horological time, but rather “sidereal time,” which is based on the sun’s position at the spring equinox. They consult an astrological ephemeris, a table listing the positions of the sun, moon, planets, and constellations at any given time. The information they gather helps them make predictions about finances, relationships, and other life events, along with inferences about personality traits.

The Advent of Heliocentrism

In many ways, astrology drove discoveries in astronomy, and the two were regarded as the same discipline for centuries. Then in the medieval period, when we knew more about the stars and solar system, astronomy was seen as a means for gaining a greater understanding of astrology. Some concepts from astrology also influenced the study of alchemy, meteorology, and even medicine. But a basic premise of astrology conflicted with emerging knowledge; scientists were beginning to realize that the Earth was not the center of the universe.

As scholars came to realize that the sun was the center of the universe (a theory known as heliocentrism), astrology naturally came under fire. Though the study persisted, it has since been relegated to the realm of superstition and novelty; to this day, people still read their daily horoscopes, though more for fun than anything else. Meanwhile, astronomy has proven itself as an academic discipline. For instance, scholars have applied principles of calculus to the function of the cosmos, lending validity to the science.

Rare Books about Astrology and Astronomy

A Briefe and Most Easie Introduction to the Astrological Judgement of the Starres (1598)
Noted French physician Claudius Dariot practiced in the tradition of Paracelsus, the Renaissance physician, botanist, and astrologer who founded the discipline of toxicology. Paracelsus and his followers divined their patients’ treatments from astrological readings. Dariot applied astrology in a new way, for horary astrology (using astrological readings to answer specific questions). His Introduction was a seminal work in the field of astrology and remains a principal authority in its field. This edition of the book contains two texts. The first is a revised and expanded translation of Dariot’s work by Fabian Wither, including a brief treatise on electoral astrology. The second is the first edition of an original text on medical applications, written by G.C., an unidentified Englishman who was also responsible for the revisions and expansions of Dariot’s original text.

The New Astrology; or, The Art of Predicting or Foretelling Future Events, by the Aspects, Positions, and Influences of the Heavenly Bodies…In Two Parts (1786)
The real Sir Christopher Heydon was a Member of Parliament, solider, and astrology writer. He died in 1623, and the author of The New Astrologerevidently used his name as a pseudonym. The author’s use of a false name indicates that the field of astrology wasn’t necessarily considered “respectable.” The work includes 17 tables and diagrams. OCLC shows three institutional holdings, none in the US; ESTC shows two copies in the US; and ABPC shows no copies at auction in the last thirty years.

A Collection of Examples of the Applications of the Calculus of Finite Differences and Examples of the Solutions of Functional Equations (1820)
John Herschel, William Frederick, and Charles Babbage were distinguished mathematicians who contributed to a mathematical revival in England. Hershel, a member of the Royal Society since 1813, had a brilliant career in astronomy, while Babbage (also elected to the Royal Society in 1816) would go on to pursue analytical and difference engines–the precursors to the modern computer. The close relationship between mathematics and astronomy, so eloquently explored by these scholars and others, would distance it from the formerly synonymous field of astrology.

The Unseen World: Communications with it, Real or Imaginary, Including Apparitions, Warnings, Haunted Places, Prophecies, Aerial Visions, Astrology, &c &c (1847)
Educated at Trinity College, John Mason Neale was an Anglican priest, scholar, and hymn writer. The author of famous holiday carols like “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” and “Good King Wenceslas” seems an unlikely author for a book on astrology. Indeed, Neale’s views were quite high church, but he also wrote a devotional and mystical commentary on the Psalms. The Unseen World (1847) illustrates the ways that mysticism (of which astrology can be considered a part) often commingled with religion–as it still does to this day.


Elias Samuel Cooper: Renowned and Controversial Surgeon

Elias-Samuel-CooperThe nineteenth century was a time of exploration and discovery in the field of medicine. One man who made significant contributions to the field in America was Elias Samuel Cooper, a surgeon whose aspirations stretched beyond building a successful private practice. Dr. Cooper founded the first medical college in San Francisco, where his techniques drew both controversy and respect from the medical community.

Self-Education and Training

Cooper was raised on a Quaker farm in Ohio, where his abolitionist family settled after relocating from slavery-friendly South Carolina in 1807. His sister lived on a neighboring farm, so Cooper grew up with his nephew, Levi Cooper Lane. Cooper left no personal account of his life, so what we know is gleaned from his brother’s journal and a few other historical sources. From that document, we learn that Cooper’s birthday was November 25, 1820. It’s presumed that Cooper attended a country school in Butler County. His brother Jacob’s journal also refers to Cooper’s apprenticeship to a Dr. Waugh in 1838. Cooper’s older brother Elaias also entered the medical profession, and it appears that Cooper either apprenticed or partnered with him in Greenville, Indiana from 1840 to 1843.

In 1851, Cooper was awarded a medical degree from St. Louis University. At that time, a candidate who got credit for “four years of reputable practice” could obtain a degree after only one lecture cycle, which lasted four-and-a-half months. That seems like little training for such an important profession, but most medical practitioners at the time had no formal training, or little more than an apprenticeship. Cooper had actually “self-awarded” himself an MD at least two years earlier; he published “Remarks on Congestive Fever” in the Jan/Feb 1849 edition of St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal. He signed it “ES Cooper, MD.” Such a practice was relatively common, and it was not until later that more rigorous standards were implemented to prevent self-credentialing and practicing without proper instruction.

By all accounts, Cooper was an incredibly industrious physician, spending many hours in self-study. He was particularly interested in surgery. In 1843, Cooper set up his private practice in Danville, Indiana. Soon he was making almost $800 a month, a tidy sum at the time. At only 23 years old, Cooper performed an impressive surgery, successfully removing a large portion of the patient’s jaw. The procedure required sophisticated knowledge of anatomy, including deep knowledge of the vascular system. Cooper’s success sealed his local reputation in the medical community.

Greater Aspirations

Cooper moved to Peoria, Illinois in 1844, and within a year he’d opened up a dissecting room and begun offering lectures on anatomy and surgery. Less interested in growing his private practice, Cooper focused more heavily on surgery. His first operation was on a case of strabismus (when the eyes are not aligned properly). Soon Cooper had established himself as the preeminent surgeon for the eyes and face, and for orthopedics. Patients would travel from neighboring states to see the young physician.

Cooper’s reputation raised the ire of his colleagues, who decided to attack Cooper for his dissections. At the time, it was legal for surgeons to dissect the bodies of convicts, provided that the relatives had no objections. Thus when convicted murderers Thomas Brown and George Williams were executed, Cooper received their bodies. He removed them under cover of darkness, because the executions had been quite a public spectacle (and had almost taken place at the hands of an angry mob instead of at the hands of sanctioned officials). Cooper had anticipated receiving the bodies, and he’d advertised an anatomy lecture to take place shortly after the execution. Thus, everyone knew where these bodies came from.

But there were no criminals available for Cooper’s next lecture, which raised suspicion of grave robbery. Cooper’s detractors published a handbill called “Rally to the Rescue of the Graves of Your Friends,” drawing attention to the fact that Cooper must be digging up bodies to supply himself with dissection subjects for his numerous anatomy lectures. The handbill called for a public indignation meeting. Cooper attended the meeting himself, along with some of his friends, who were labeled “Cooperites.” One of his companions, who happened to be drunk, offered to preside over the proceedings. When it was suggested that he was unfit for the task, he retorted, “A drunken man may get sober, but a nature-born fool will never have any sense, by God!” The crowd roared with laughter and soon dispersed. This was Cooper’s first brush with controversy, but it wouldn’t be his last.

Cooper’s practice continued to grow, and he had to purchase a second building to house his Infirmary for the Eye and Ear. He also specialized in the removal and correction of deformities from the lower extremities, especially club foot. But his goal was to establish a medical school, so in 1854 Cooper went to Europe to observe the medical institutions there and to meet with leading medical practitioners. When he returned to the United States, he settled in San Francisco.

The First Medical School in San Francisco

Elias-Samuel-CooperAfter relocating to San Francisco, Cooper established the Cooper Eye, Ear, and Orthopedic Infirmary in a prominent location. He immediately began advertising for free lectures and demonstrations of his surgical techniques, a strategy that didn’t earn him any friends in the local medical community. Cooper also published reports of his various surgical endeavors. One of these was “Report of an Operation to Remove a Foreign Body from Beneath the Heart.” Published by the San Francisco County Midico Chirugical Association in 1857, the report details how Cooper removed an iron slug lodged in the patient, BT Beal, for 74 days before Cooper endeavored to remove it. The patient’s health improved so dramatically after the procedure that he was “not to be recognized by the medical men present at the operation.”

Clearly Cooper had developed an incredible talent for the art of surgery, but he also made notable advancements to the field. He helped to introduce the use of chloroform during surgery, an indispensable tool in the days before general anesthesia. Cooper also used alcoholic dressings to prevent infection to incisions and wounds, significantly reducing mortality rates. He was a pioneer in the use of animals to test surgical techniques. In 1858, Cooper used his connections and knowledge to establish the Medical department of the University of the Pacific. The school has existed under several names almost without interruption ever since.

Though Cooper still drew some criticism for his dissections, he worked to clarify regulations and ensure proper practices in California. But that didn’t mean that he received universal approbation. In 1857, Cooper performed San Francisco’s first caesarean section. The mother, Mary Hoges, survived but her child did not. Thanks to the encouragement of Dr. David Wooster, who had been the assisting physician, Hoges sued Cooper for malpractice. She argued that the procedure had been unnecessary. The trial resulted in a hung jury, but Wooster continued to publicly attack Cooper, whom he considered a rival. Cooper finally responded in The San Francisco Medical Press, which he founded himself.

Cooper’s career was cut short in 1862, when he succumbed to nephritis after a prolonged illness. But his contributions to medical literature offer fascinating insights into the evolution of the field.


Meet Art Conservator Extraordinaire, Karen Zukor!


Karen Zukor, Senior Conservator at Zukor Art Conservation. Photo courtesy of SF Gate.

This week we welcome special guest Karen Zukor to our blog! Zukor is the senior conservator at Zukor Art Conservation. She’s been a professional paper conservator for more than thirty years and is a Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation. She’s been responsible for many collections, both public and private, trains both pre- and post-program interns, and offers lectures and workshops to the public. This week she was kind enough to sit down with us to discuss her career path, how conservation has evolved, and how rare book collectors can preserve and protect their collections.

Tav Books: You’ve been in conservation for over thirty years. How did you decide on this career?
Zukor:Initially I was teaching Art History on the East coast, but when I moved out to California in 1974 with my husband, I couldn’t find a teaching position. My interest in art & history also included a curiosity about materials and techniques, so conservation seemed like a good fit. However, I didn’t know really what it entailed or whether I’d have aptitude for it. So I apprenticed with two different conservators and took many courses in related fields. When those apprenticeships were over, I continued to work in the studio with the conservator who initially trained me; that was great because I always had a more senior person there to help me over rough spots. I opened my business four years after those apprenticeships began and worked out of his studio. Eventually, about two or three years later, I moved out on my own.

Tav Books: How have conservation techniques changed since you began your career?
Zukor: I would say that chemical research, particularly in paper conservation, has advanced quite a bit. We’ve gotten a lot more information about the processes that were in place for many decades and also potential treatments in the future. In some ways it’s been a subtractive rather than a cumulative process; long-term research has shown that many conservation techniques are simply not as successful as we’d like them to be–and in some ways can be detrimental. We know more, but we do less. The attitude has changed quite a bit.

Conservators these days are more conservative and practice more restraint. In this field, you’re always implementing some kind of intervention, no matter how subtle. But in the last 25 years, I’ve seen more conservators choose the most minimal treatment and opt for housing an object properly, to slow down the deterioration, rather than to reverse its damage. I think this is my approach, but we also do more full treatments. We have a great deal of experience, though! Right now about seventy percent of our projects are art on paper. The rest is archival material, manuscripts, maps, documents, and books.

Tav Books: Explain the differences among preservation, conservation, and restoration.
Zukor: Restoration usually involves removing as much of the damage as possible, returning the object to a condition that most closely resembles the way it looked when it was originally manufactured. When you conserve an item, you try to remove damage–ravages of time, stains and soil…but you acknowledge that the piece can really not be returned to its original appearance. The focus is instead on trying to stabilize the object both physically and chemically, while acknowledging that the object will continue to deteriorate. There’s less emphasis on cosmetic appearance.

Preservation is about finding the best long-term care and storage for an object, so that deterioration is minimal or at least slowed down as much as possible. When we preserve something, we often ask, “What kind of enclosure or package will give the most protection?” For a book, that would be a box–it keeps out light, dust, and should made out of good quality archival material.

The only times we do restoration is when we fill losses with paper that’s as close as possible to the original. If it’s not a terribly valuable object, we’ll draw in the missing image or tone the paper. For preservation we sometimes do enclosures, especially boxes, for clients so that we know the piece will be properly housed for long-term storage.

One of Zukor’s more unusual commissions: to open a time capsule from 1896! Check out what she finds inside. 

Tav Books: What are the most common issues you address?
Zukor: We work on a lot of prints, drawings, and watercolors, and the most common problem is that they come in having been mounted to a board of poor quality. So they were either at some point glued down to a rigid support (because people always seem to think the piece looks better flat). Unless those supports are really good quality, they’ll transfer their properties to whatever’s attached–if you mount something onto an acidic board, that acidity will migrate to the piece. And you also change the nature of the piece; that print attached to a board is no longer a print; it’s a board with an image on it.

A second mistake we address on a regular basis is the use of pressure sensitive tapes. These are usually either used to make repairs or to attach a work of art to a mat. Paper conservation is relatively new. It’s only about sixty years old. And people only started studying paper chemistry and the factors that caused paper to deteriorate in the 1930′s and 1940′s. Research about pressure sensitive tapes is even more recent than that. And formulas for manufacture change periodically–masking tape from 50 years ago is a completely different product, so it will age differently than masking tape manufactured today.

Tav Books: What’s the most challenging or interesting project you’ve tackled?
Zukor: Oh, there are too many to single out! But probably the most challenging was a project in India with a very large, extremely damaged book, all hand written and illustrated in water-sensitive colors. The volume was close to 1,000 pages. It took three people six months, spread out over five years, to do the text. It was very difficult because we were working in an extremely remote location, so we had to bring everything we needed with us, which also led to some instances of interesting improvisation!

Tav Books: Any favorite materials to work with?
Zukor: The first thing that comes to mind is really Japanese papers. We do all of our repair, mending, and backing with very good quality Japanese papers because they’re thin, strong, and flexible. They are wonderful to work with! They’re much better quality than what we could get in the West. It’s pretty much all paper conservators work with. Most of them are handmade, and not dyed. They’re made of different kinds of fibers than they have here in the West. Japan makes the best paper without a doubt, and it’s certainly an arduous process. The conservation community has been partly responsible for keeping Japanese paper manufacture a viable craft.

Tav Books: Tell us a little bit about the kinds of works on paper that are most durable. What about the ones that are most delicate or fragile?
Zukor: Older papers are made from better quality fiber, such as cotton or linen. They also don’t contain a lot of additives or bleaches that would contribute to their deterioration. Later papers had sizings, bleaches, brighteners…all kinds of components that made paper less durable than the earlier ones. The absolute worst quality is newsprint, which is ground wood pulp.

Tav Books: To what extent does the material impact the way it should be stored and preserved? Zukor: The poorer quality the paper, the more likely it is to become brittle and darkened with exposure in just ordinary conditions. Pages made from low-quality paper need more protection from light, heat, humidity, and one another. They often need interleaving material. This can present a problem with antiquarian books, because you can’t interleave the entire book. That would put too much stress on the binding. But owners can definitely put acid-free tissue over the illustrations.

Tav Books: What’s the biggest mistake that private collectors make in caring for/storing their collections?
Zukor: Neglect. Not paying enough attention, not investing in the right materials, and ignoring the need to provide protection with the right kind of materials. Not only to slow aging in the individual item, but to protect different items from influencing and damaging one another. Collectors also tend to handle their items with less than very clean hands. I’m a hand washer because I think that white gloves, no matter how well fitted, give you a less secure grip on the item. There are some instances where gloves are imperative, but most of the time we recommend that people just wash really thoroughly.

The other thing I would emphasize is that collectors should not try to do their own repairs. If they don’t want to take something to a conservator, the best course of action is to leave the piece alone. Don’t attempt to do any repairs or add any material that you think will work! We spend a lot of time undoing work done by people with good intentions.

Karen Zukor and her team specialize in the repair and preservation of art and artifacts on paper, from prints and drawings, to documents, maps, manuscripts, and rare books. Their field of expertise covers a broad spectrum, from small repairs to the treatment of severely damaged and deteriorated objects. Zukor Art Conservation is equipped to handle large-scale works on paper, and can host on-site workshops for up to twenty people. Their lab is designed to provide conservation treatment for both single artifacts and larger collections. Whether of artistic, historic, or personal significance, every item is viewed in context, with consideration for how it will be used.  


Planes, Trains, and Automobiles!

Summer is officially underway, and the season is synonymous with family vacation, road trips, and carefree adventures. Though the ways we travel have evolved over time, the thrill of the journey endures.


Since the beginning of time, humans have been obsessed with flight. At first, their attempts were based on the way birds flew. Next the hot air and hydrogen balloons gave us a means of navigating the skies. But it was two bicycle manufacturers from Dayton, Ohio who would introduce the airplane. The Wright brothers revolutionized travel, war, and commerce with their invention.

The Call of the Clouds

CAll-Clouds-GallaudetEdson Gallaudet formed the first aircraft engineering office in 1908. Two years later, Gallaudet Engineering Office had begun building planes under contract. The company was reorganized as the Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation in 1917 and offered its first product, the Curtis floatplane, the following year. This rare trade catalogue, The Call of the Clouds, presents the Gallaudet Chummy Flyabout Sport Model–which sold for the low price of $3,500. We’ve found no evidence that this plane was ever actually produced, making the catalogue a fascinating record of a machine that could have been.

Pilot’s Flight Operating Instructions

Pilots-Flight-ManualsOur collection includes three pilot’s’ flight operating instructions for Army planes, published in 1945. These flight manuals address both American and British planes used during the World War II era, such as the P-51 and B-29. They incorporate numerous charts and graphs for pilots, along with a few annotations from the original owner. For those interested in aviation or military history, this collection of documents are quite fascinating.


AeroplanesA rare early aviation trade catalogue, Aeroplanes presents models manufactured by Aug. C. Gomes & Cie, with specifications, illustrations, and performance records for Henry Farman, Sommer, Bleriot, Tellier, Voisin, Antoinette, Maurice Farman, REP, and Hanriot models. A powerplant section follows, and the catalogue concludes with a variety of other aircraft accessories and components. The company even offers hangar facilities for some airplane models. We’ve found no listing for this particular catalogue in either OCLC or KVK.


As early as 1550, roads with wooden rails were built in Germany to make it easier for horse-drawn carriages to move. These wagonways, as they were called, were the precursor to the modern railroad. Two centuries later, iron had replaced wood. But the railroad truly became an efficient means of transportation with the introduction of the steam locomotive. Today, trains evoke the romance and nostalgia of leisurely travel.

Baldwin Locomotive Works Photographs

This photo album apparently belonged to SM Vauclain, locomotive designer and eventual president of Baldwin Locomotive. It’s possibly unique, with 18 pasted-in albumen prints of various Baldwin locomotives. Identified models include “Nacional Mexicano,” “Northern Pacific,” “Companhia Paulista,” “EFOM,” “Ramal Dumont,” “WNY & PRR,” and “Estrada de Ferro Central do Brazil.” The photo quality is very good to fine.


War of the Gauges

IWar-Gauges-Railroad-Erie-Pennsylvanian December, 1853, the city of Erie and its neighboring township Harborcreek waged an interesting battle against rail travel. They tore up tracks of the Erie and North-East Railroad, wherever the tracks intersected the public highway or city streets. While their actions were ostensibly promulgated by a debated over track width, it indicated an underlying struggle for economic advantage. For two months, rail travel between New York and the West was interrupted, but the inconveniences lasted a full two years. The War of the Gaugesis the first book publication documenting this exciting time in Erie history, complete with court testimony and individual statements.

The Union Pacific Railroad

Union-Pacific-Railroad-BrochureThis Union Pacific Railroad brochure served as both a progress report and a promotional brochure. Because the railroad fell under the auspices of the federal government, it issued regular updates for Congress. Issued in 1868, this one includes information through December, 1867. It outlines the progress of the railroad west of Omaha, Nebraska, which resulted in an unbroken line from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The report’s frontis features a “Map of the Union Pacific Rail Road and its connections.”


Though Henry Ford is widely credited with inventing the automobile, the machine’s history is actually much more complex. Back in the 15th century, Leonardo da Vinci created designs and models for vehicles that foreshadow the modern-day automotive. Many suggest that Karl Benz actually invented the first true automobile, and it was his wife, Bertha, who undertook the first road trip to demonstrate the road-worthiness of her husband’s invention.


LocomobileFounded in 1899, the Locomobile Company manufactured small, affordable steam cars for only four years before offering only internal combustion-powered luxury cars. This brochure, one of the first the company issued, notes the demand for “a self-propelling vehicle that will combine the qualities of lightness, speed, economy, and ease of operation.” It describes the advantages and attributes of the vehicle and includes images of several models. The last, Model 6, is billed as “the Fastest Racing Machine in the World.” OCLC records only three institutional holdings of this item, making it uncommon in the trade.

A Joy Ride of 1911

Joy-Ride-Chalmers_1911Generously illustrated with both photographs and postcards, “A Joy Ride of 1911″ is a charming amateur account of one family’s Chalmers automobile trip through New Jersey up through New England. Their objective is to reach the White Mountains. Recorded by the anonymous wife/mother of the family, the vacation is engagingly chronicled.

1936 Report of Bonneville Salt Flats Speed Runs

JB Jenkins Robinson made a typewritten report to HC Bougey, Chief Chemist of General Motors, detailing the results of sponsored speed runs in 1936. Their aim: “To establish Worlds’ speed records with a view of utilizing results for advertising and sales promotion.” Over four testing periods, 19 speed records were set. Seven carbon copies of Robinson’s report exist; this one is bound in a manilla folder along with a facsimile log-sheet for Jenkins’ 24-hour run (Sept 21-23) and 16 captioned black-and-white snapshots.


 As we look back in time at the history of transportation, we wonder what the future holds. What mode of transportation will be next to captivate the world with its promise of adventure?


A Warm Welcome to Margueritte Peterson

Margueritte-PetersonWe’re thrilled to announce that Margueritte Peterson has joined the team at Tavistock Books!  Margueritte lends a hand with cataloguing, answering customer inquiries, and many other functions.

Margueritte graduated in 2012 from the University of Florida, where she majored in English Literature. Her specialization was children’s literature, and she completed her honors thesis on A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. “I love artists and authors from the Golden Age of children’s literature,” she says. “They’re the most beauteous, and they appeal to adults, too. You can bring away something different every time you read those books, regardless of your age.”

During the 2010-2011 school year, Margueritte studied abroad in London and soon discovered Charing Cross Road. While she’d always been a reader, she had never before encountered the antiquarian book world. Soon she was visiting the bookshops there on a regular basis. “I never bought anything–I was a starving college student! But I was just fascinated with these books, and with the occupation of book dealership in general.” She attended the 2011 London Antiquarian Book Fair and has been traveling to the major book fairs ever since. “I just knew I wanted to find a way to be part of this world,” Margueritte says.

Soon, thanks to Chris Loker and John Windle, Tavistock’s proprietor Vic Zoschak had contacted Margueritte about becoming his “Girl Friday” at Tavistock Books. She made the cross-country trip from Florida to California, and she’s now settled into her new home in Alameda. Now Margueritte’s responsibilities include researching new acquisitions, “dusting like nobody’s business,” and immersing herself in the rare book trade. “It’s interesting work. Cataloguing each book, one by one, is sort of like giving each book a home, which is cool. Vic has also been incredibly patient. I’m learning all the time.” observed Margueritte.

Margueritte also has her own burgeoning collection of children’s books. “At first my ‘collection’ consisted of a few books I found in the prop bin of a high school drama production, and it’s still not a huge collection. But I have a first American edition of Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and a few other items I’m proud of.” Eventually Margueritte plans to open up her own shop, where she’ll probably specialize in children’s books.