Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Did George Washington Wear a Tuxedo?

I like books which have interesting stories to tell beyond the text, and I also like association copies- a copy of a book which belonged to somebody interesting. Every so often a book comes along that combines both, and we’ve got one in our new Spring catalog (you knew that’s where this was going, didn’t you?).

James Walter wrote "Memorials of Washington and of Mary, His Mother, and Martha, His Wife, from Letters and Papers of Robert Cary and James Sharples" in 1887. On the surface, as John Lovari, writing in Karpel’s “Arts in America” writes- it is “Apparently an interesting and valuable account of Sharples's connection with the Washington family, with comments on Robert Fulton and his friendship with Sharples and on the two men as artists and scientists.

But all is not as it seems... Lovari continues-

Although this is a seemingly plausible and valid description of the book after a first reading of it, the work, an abridged version of which had appeared in 1886 under the title 'History and Descriptive Details of Middleton's Portraits of Mary, the Mother of Washington', ranks with Clifford Irving's recent 'biography' of Howard Hughes as one of the major hoaxes of the publishing world. Walter was attacked on twelve points of plagiarism, forgery, and fabrication of evidence by the members of the Massachusetts Historical Society".

Well now.

All that’s interesting enough, but this copy has the small printed book ticket of the noted American book collector Grenville Kane, the bulk of whose Americana and Incunabula collections are now at Princeton. In addition to being an important book collector, Kane was also a founding member of the Tuxedo Club, a group of wealthy New Yorkers who summered together at Tuxedo Park in upstate New York; the group was responsible for introducing to American Society the new-fangled semi-formal dinner jacket worn at a dinner by the Prince of Wales, and naming it the... yes, that's right.

ok, I'll admit that I'm pretty easily amused, but I think that's fairly cool.

Our new Spring catalog is now available online or as a printed catalog; please let us know if you would like a copy.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New Spring Catalog

Spring is sprung,
the grass is ris,
I wonder where
the new catalog is?

Well, the Book Elves are busy this week in the garden, flinging daffodil bulbs at each other, but before the loaded up the wheelbarrow with wood chips and accidentally had the first barbecue of the spring, they finished our new Spring Catalog, featuring 310 books & catalogs on furniture, ceramics, glass, silver, metals, textiles, and other decorative arts & related subjects.

This catalog is available in printed format,and it may also be viewed on our website.

If you would prefer a printed copy, please let us know.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Far Cry from Kensington-

The English novelist Muriel Spark died last week in Italy. Over a career spanning more than five decades, Ms. Spark wrote many much-loved novels, including “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, “A Far Cry from Kensington”, “The Ballad of Peckham Rye”, and “Memento Mori”. But in her autobiography of the first four decades of her life, Muriel Spark recounts some of her other jobs, and one, her first job after working on a secret project for the British Foreign Office during the War, may be of particular interest to antiques collectors-

“The year after the war I found a job on a good quarterly magazine called Argentor... Argentor was a beautifully produced magazine, resembling the Connoisseur in style and format, the official quarterly journal of the National Jewellers’ Association. My job was mainly research in museums, libraries, art galleries; a truly refreshing occupation. I loved it. Even now, looking back at the list of contents of the first number in which I was involved, the pleasure of that world comes back to me. The editor, William Llewellyn-Amos, was particularly trusting, and quite uncaring about my lack of experience. His confidence in me was stimulating. I had no hesitation about writing contributions on a subject hitherto unknown to me. Another journalist, Mona Curran, was employed in the office; we worked together well. Quite a lot of articles by specialists had to be touched up from the stylistic point of view, and we spent long hours recasting the articles that had been commissioned.

The list of contents in the number under preparation when I joined the magazine included an article on English domestic silver, and one on spoons and forks; another was ‘Old Clocks of England’ and James Gunn, a celebrated portrait painter, contributed ‘Jewels and the Painter’. The journal, very well illustrated, aimed to express high standards of workmanship, and to give the readers an idea of the history of the jewellers’ art, and that of goldsmiths, silversmiths, horologists and the allied crafts. One of my first assignments was to work on an article (signed by the editor) called ‘The Goldsmith Painters’, relating how many of the Renaissance artists began as goldsmiths. On my own account I wrote ‘Some Jewels of English Poetry’, in which I showed how the names of jewels were used figuratively throughout English poetry. (To my surprise and joy this article was picked our for a highly favourable mention by the Evening Standard: my stock in the office went up). Later on, before I left Argentor, I had researched and written a long article on the Order of the Golden Fleece which adorns many famous and historical portraits. About this article I have a sense of great satisfaction. It bears no signs of immaturity and I would not hesitate to reprint it today.

The number of subjects connected with the goldsmiths’, silversmiths’ and jewellers’ art was inexhaustible. The essays written by experts which needed some form of recasting were mainly passed on to me. I learned how to copy-edit tactfully. I recall that I took out a great many adjectives.

My working days were long. I spent hours on research at the College of Heralds, the National Gallery, the British Museum and similar institutions. Further hours were spent in the office, writing and editing. And sometimes I would work at home on an interesting article, far, far into the night.

I got no extra pay for work I had done at home, and of my own composition. I wasn’t expected to sell my work to the magazine. Even when I wrote a small poem, much approved of by the editor, this too went in with my wages, six pounds a week, as a matter of course. I was perfectly happy with this arrangement. I enjoyed the work and was learning, too, how to edit a magazine, and how to proof-read and copy-edit. Argentor continued to publish my work (no pay) till 1948, two years after I left, and was editing Poetry Review for the Poetry Society. But Argentor is no more. It is now an expensive production often quoted in the rare book lists”.

-Muriel Spark, Curriculum Vitae. Autobiography. London, Constable and Company, 1992.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

That's funny, I don't see it on the map...

We have a sub-specialty in books about fakes, forgery & fraud, and I'm always excited when I run across the tale of a new fraud I did not know about before. We just brought in a nice publisher's overstock title which falls into that category.

Ever vacation on the broad, sandy beaches, or go hiking through the temperate, leafy woodlands of the tiny Central American Country of Poyais? No? Well, there may be a reason for that...

Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land that Never Was. The Extraordinary Story of the Most Audacious Fraud in History. by David Sinclair. Published by Headline Book Publishing in 2003.

”Once upon a time, in the heart of Central America, there was a country called Poyais. It was a country exceptionally rich in natural resources, civilization and culture, and was ruled by a brave an enlightened Scottish soldier, General Sir Gregor MacGregor, who had been made its cazique, or prince, after his many heroic exploits in the cause of South America’s struggle to liberate itself from the Spanish empire. In 1821 the Cazique of Poyais and his beautiful princess arrived in Britain to promote the virtues of their country and encourage immigration and investment.”

Within a year Sir Gregor MacGregor had become a celebrity, been honored by the Mayor of London, and had persuaded thousands of savvy investors to subscribe a L200,000 loan he floated on the London Stock Market. He also succeeded in persuading hundreds of settlers to uproot their lives and families, sell everything they owned, and set out on the long and perilous journey to this promised land in two ships. It was a journey from which most of them would never return, because, of course, there was no such country as Poyais...

This book is a hardcover. 5.5”x9”, 358 pages, b/w illustrations, dj. New. Published at $25.00. Copies available for a limited time for $10.00

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Shot Heard Round the World-

It's Patriot's Day here in Massachusetts, a legal holiday not familiar to many folks outside the Bay State. It commemorates the Lexington-Concord Battle of 1775, as immortalized by favorite son Ralph Waldo Emerson-

By the rude bridge which arched the flood,
their flag to to April breeze unfurled,
here once the embattled farmers stood,
and fired the shot heard round the world

Patriot's Day now means an 11 a.m. Red Sox game, the Boston Marathon, and services and re-enactments in many towns which have companies of volunteer Minutemen who dress up in colonial-era garb and march on their town greens. The Lexington-Concord area has the whole panapoly of celebrations, including a local company of the British 10th Regiment of Foot, the soldiers who were among the companies that marched to Concord that day. As a kid growing up in Concord, I always wanted to be one of the Redcoats. My illusions were shattered one day when I was walking down by the post office and saw a lanky Redcoat take off his tall tin hat and squeeze himself into a tiny VW parked by the curb.

We have an interesting Lexington-Concord-related book ending on Ebay tomorrow- it's a reminiscence about the battle, and the subsequent siege of Boston, by a British officer who was there- Concord Fight. Being so much of the Narrative of Ensign Jeremy Lister of the 10th Regiment of Foot as pertains to his services on the 19th of April, 1775, and to his experiences in Boston during the early months of the Siege.

Published in Cambridge by the Harvard University Press in 1931. Edition limited to 500 copies. An interesting account of the Lexington & Concord fights and subsequent retreat back to Boston by an officer who was wounded at the Concord Bridge. The manuscript account, written in 1782, first came to light when portions were published in the London Telegraph in 1928. Richard Eaton and Allen French of Concord tracked the original manuscript to its owner, a Lister descendant, who agreed to let them make a copy of the entire short memoir, and publish in full the parts that pertained to the Lexington-Concord battle and siege of Boston.

Ensign Jeremy Lister was a twenty-something junior officer in April, 1775, and he volunteered to join Colonel Smith's detachment on the march to Concord. Shot in the elbow at the Concord bridge, Lister's account of the devestating journey back to Boston and his stay there during the siege, as he recieved medical care for his shattered arm, contain many interesting details. This book also contains an interesting Introduction which gives further details about Lister and explains how difficult it is to figure out what happened on April 19th when using conflicting period accounts. At the end of the book there are several letters Lister wrote to his father, giving additonal details of the siege, including a short description of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

For more details click our Auctions link in the right-hand column. And Happy Patriot's Day!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Reasons to Collect-

There is an interesting passage in the preface to Julia Torrey's 1917 book Old Sheffield Plate. Writing at the height of World War I, Torrey feels the need to explain her decision to publish a book on a subject as 'frivolous' as antique collecting-

"While it claims no direct bearing upon the serious problems of existence in these strenuous times, this book is offered without apology; for concerning war directly and indirectly there is literature without end, and it has been virtuously assumed by many of us that the finer and quieter things of life must be too much neglected. The spirit of destruction is rampant, and is eating its way into our lives whether we will it or no. Our best energies are spent in the creation of huge and elaborate mechanisms for the sole purpose of destroying and of being destroyed. In view of this very fact is it not the more appropriate, in moments of necessary relaxation, to draw attention to some of the minor but truly excellent works of art that are well worth saving from the general wreckage? May not some fragments that have remained to us from the days when many an artisan was also an artist, help to revive in us the spirit of the workman who wrought well that his work might not only serve a useful purpose, but that it might also please and endure?"

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Our new Books on Silver catalog is now available, please let us know if you would like a copy.

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We have a few interesting books ending on Ebay over the weekend, including a scarce Civil War memoir, the 1936 prospectus for the magnificent Arent Tobacco Collection catalog, a very nice Derrydale Press book, and an 1873 account of the Great Fire of Boston. Click the link to our Ebay auctions in the links column for more information.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cutlery: it's more than knives, forks & spoons-

Our new printed catalog, "Books on Silver & Silversmiths", just out this week, rolls along -if you want a copy and did not get one, please let us know. One of the most popular new books in the catalog is a great book on cutlery-

"Cutlery. From Gothic to Art Deco. The J. Hollander Collection" by Jan Van Trigt, published in 2003 by Pandora. There are no words to adequately describe the 534 sets of antique cutlery illustrated and described here. I’m not sure how anyone could eat while holding such objects- you’d just sit there, staring at the intricate details and wonderful carving or enamel or engraved work. One might literally starve while attempting to dine. There are knives and forks with handles of carved bone and ivory, decorated porcelain, gleaming enamels, chased, gilt or engraved silver, handles of coral and agate and other semi-precious stones, traveling cutlery of brass or mother-of-pearl... there are heads, stags, flowers, scrolls, bears, priests, angels, buxom women and bearded sages. There may even be buxom sages, I’ve lost track. Published at the time of the exhibition of the Hollander Collection at the Design Museum of Ghent in 2003. Essential for the lover of silver, and cutlery. Essential even if you don’t love cutlery. It’s that good. Hardcover. 10”x12”, 298 pages, color illustrations, dj; bibliography. New. $75.00

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A New Silver Catalog-

Our new "Books on Silver & Silversmiths" catalog, featuring 267 books, is out today. If you would like a copy, let us know.

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Although most of the books in the catalog are out of print, one featured book is a great new publisher's overstock- "Contemporary Silver. Commissioning. Designing. Collecting" by Benton Seymour Rabinovitch. Published by Merrell Publishers in 2000.

This is a sumptuous feast of a book for the silver lover, filled with gorgeous photographs of unique and surprising fantasies on the theme of the broad-bladed silver server. Rabinovitch, author of a book on antique broad-bladed silver servers, commissioned more than 60 new servers from a variety of working silver craftsmen, and the results are stunning and provocative. The text describes each server and the silversmiths' ideas in creating it, and also explores the relationship between artist and patron, and even how to become a patron, on a large or small scale, yourself. A fun book which silver lovers will spend hours going through again and again. Hardcover. 9.5"x10", 160 pages, color illustrations, dj. New. Published at $49.95

Publisher’s Overstock available for a limited time for $25.00.

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We have a few Hunting & Fishing books ending on ebay this week. No reserves, because my Uncle Cal, a Maine fisherman for his entire life, always said- "A reserve in hand is worth two if be sea". Of course my Uncle Cal had had a few bourbons at that point and usually ended up snagging his own hat with his fly. But he made a mean meatloaf.

Anyway, we have some books, reasonable bids & no reserves. Click our Ebay Auction link for more details.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Books & Cooks-

We've got a nice new book in this morning- "The Book Lover's Cookbook" by Shaunda Kennedy Wenger & Janet Kay Jensen. A hardcover published by Ballantine in 2003 for $21.95, we can offer a few for $10.00 while they last. Here's the publisher's blurb-

Just imagine—a literary and gastronomical feast contained in a single book! This lovely volume features 200 recipes that were cooked up, served, or mentioned in favorite novels and works of non-fiction, all accompanied by an excerpt from the book in which it was featured. For breakfast there are Mrs. Dalby's Buttermilk Scones (from James Herriot's All Things Bright and Beautiful and Mammy's Yams from Gone With the Wind, while main dishes include Any Beginner's Sweet-and-Sour Chicken (Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees) and Empanadas (Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune). The Book Lover's Cookbook also includes such literary specialties as Mrs. Leibowitz's Lentil-Vegetable Soup (Isak Dinesen's Babette's Feast), Ruby's Potato Salad (Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain), Traditional Southern Crackling Corn Bread (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), Merry Punch (Pride and Prejudice), Pure Pleasure Apple Pie (Garrison Keillor's "Lutheran Pie" from We Are Still Married), and the tempting treat that trumped sibling loyalty in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Turkish Delight.

We have a new issue of our catalog Books on Silver & Silversmiths going into the mail early next week. If you'd like a copy, please send us an email.

We have some interesting Hunting & Fishing and Hunting & Fishing Art books up for auction on Ebay at the moment, and will be adding more in the next week or two, including some nice Derrydale Press items. Please click our "Current Ebay Auctions" link on the sidebar for more information.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

An Engineer and the Untranslatable Book...

Future-President Herbert Hoover was first and last an engineer who specialized in mining, and he took both great pride in his profession as well as an acute interest in its history and antecedents. Accordingly, he was fascinated by Georgius Agricola's 1556 folio "De Re Metallica", which was, as he wrote in his autobiography, "the first important attempt to assemble systematically in print the world-knowledge on mining, metallurgy, and industrial chemistry. It was the great textbook of those industries for two centuries and had dominated thought and practice all that time. In many mining regions and camps, including the Spanish South America, it was chained to the church altar and translated by the priest to the miners between religious services."

Hoover continues- "No one had ever succeeded in translating it into English, although several had tried... The problem of the 'untranslatable' Agricola fascinated us both (he and Mrs. Hoover, who was a good Latinist) and finally in 1907 we resolved to translate it jointly. There were formidable difficulties; for while Agricola's Latin was scholarly enough, he was dealing with subjects the whole nomenclature and practice of which had developed hundreds of years after the Latin language had ceased to grow. He did not adopt into the text the German, Italian or English terms for the operations or substances he described, but coined or adapted Latin terms for them... The job (of properly translating) involved finding out -either from the context, from German, French, Italian, or other fragmentary literature of the times, or from study of the processes themselves -what he meant... Sometimes the task amounted more to scientific detective work than to translation...I could often have the meaning of one of his terms worked out in our laboratories. Often enough, when we discovered the meaning of a term we found that there was no modern word to express it because that particular process had been long abandoned. In any event, we grappled with it sentence by sentence, during our spare time, month after month, for over five years."

The production of the book itself, once the manuscript was completed and had been revised four times, was equally painstaking. Hoover asked a fellow-engineer for advice, and was introduced to a printer in the north of England named Frost...

"When Frost saw the manuscript and the original his eyes glistened. He exclaimed that all his life he had been a commercial printer and had always wanted to do such a book. In order to make the book as like the original as possible, he found a papermaker who could produce a sixteenth-century linen paper. He had a font of type cast in exact reproduction of the original except for the ancient letter S, which is confusing to modern readers. He printed it as a folio volume with all the old prints and illustrations in astonishing fidelity to the original. By a little juggling of the opening sentence in each chapter, we were able to include reproductions of the old illuminated initial letters. Mr. Frost bound it in white vellum as the original was bound. No more beautiful job of printing was ever turned out."

But more than simply a translation and reproduction, Hoover also added his own knowledge to the book- "In addition to the translation, I wrote an introduction covering the times and circumstances under which Agricola lived and worked, with a brief biography of him. We included full statement of all the known editions. I prepared extensive footnotes describing previous processes so far as knowledge of them is preserved -including those in Roman and Greek times. The footnotes also explained the processes and methods described by Agricola in relation to our modern practice."

Hoover's translation remains the definitive one, and a beautiful example of bookmaking as well. Perhaps the last word on the profession of mining should be left to Hoover himself, as he related an incident in his autobiography. It occurred one morning at breakfast in the fashionable dining salon of a great ocean liner on which he was returning to America from a stint at Oxford.

"At my ship's table sat an English lady of great cultivation and a happy mind, who contributed much to the evanescent conversation... we were coming up New York harbor at the final farewell breakfast, when she turned to me and said, 'I hope you will forgive my dreadful curiosity, but I should like awfully to know -what is your profession?' I replied that I was an engineer. She emitted an involuntary exclamation and said "Why, I thought you were a gentleman!'

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Portland Vase-

We just got a great little remainder title in- The Portland Vase -The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Mysterious Roman Treasure by Robin Brooks. The vase is a marvelous piece of ancient cameo glass, intricately carved by modern standards, to say nothing of the problems it must have presented for ancient Roman glass carvers.

"Created for an Emperor, exhumed from a burial ground, coveted, traded, smashed, restored, and stuffed full of incident and intrigue, the Portland Vase- the most famous of all Roman antiquities- has captivated everyone who has come into contact with it."

There was Fabrizio Lazzaro, the archeologist/tomb robber who discovered it, Pope Urban VIII who wanted to acquire it, the Princess of Palestrina who supported her gambling by selling it, the Duchess of Portland, who owned it in secret yet gave it a name, Josiah Wedgwood, whose intricate copies finished the job of immortalizing it, the madman who smashed it to bits, and the restorers who managed to piece it back together... all those figures, and more, dance across the glassy stage.

Published by HarperCollins in 2004. Hardcover, 6"x8.5", 250 pages, dj. Published at $24.95. Available now for $10.00.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Silly Sunday

There are several men sitting around in the locker room of a golf club after a round, showering and getting ready for the 19th hole. Suddenly, a mobile phone on one of the benches rings. One of the men picks it up and the following conversation ensues:

HUSBAND: "Hello?"

WIFE: "Honey, it's me. Are you at the club?"


WIFE: "Great! I am at the mall two blocks from where you are. I just saw a beautiful leather coat. It's absolutely gorgeous! Can I buy it?"

HUSBAND: "What's the price?"

WIFE: "Only $1,000."

HUSBAND: "Well, okay, go ahead and get it if you like it that much."

WIFE: "Ahh, and I also stopped by a Mercedes dealership and saw the 2002 models. I saw one I really liked. I spoke with the salesman and he gave me a really good price... and since we need to exchange the BMW that we bought last year..."

HUSBAND: "What price did he quote you?"

WIFE: "Only $60,000."

HUSBAND: "Okay, but for $60,000, I want it with all the options."

WIFE: "Great! But before we hang up, something else..."

HUSBAND: "What?"

WIFE: "It might look like a lot, but I was reconciling your bank account and I stopped by the real estate agent this morning and I saw the house we had looked at last year. It's for sale! Remember the one with a pool, English garden, acre of park area, and beachfront property?"

HUSBAND: "How much are they asking?"

WIFE: "Only $450,000, a magnificent price! and I see that we have that much in the bank to cover."

HUSBAND: "Well, then go ahead and buy it, just bid up to $450,000. Okay?"

WIFE: "Okay sweetie, thanks! I'll see you later! I love you."

HUSBAND: "Bye, I love you too."

The man hangs up and closes the phone's flap. The other men are looking at him in astonishment. The husband raises his hand while holding the phone and asks, "Does anyone know who this phone belongs to?"