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Posts Tagged ‘rare books’

Bon Voyage

February 1, 2016 | by

 

The shop closed last year.

Not long ago, the Complete Traveller Antiquarian Bookstore—one of New York’s increasingly rare single-topic booksellers—shut its doors. And now its longtime proprietor, Arnold Greenberg, has died at eighty-three. Read More »

The Beginning of Granary Books: An Interview with Steve Clay

February 1, 2016 | by

A page from John Cage’s Nods, published by Granary Books in 1991.

Last September, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library opened “The Book Undone: Thirty Years of Granary Books,” an exhibition celebrating Columbia’s purchase of the Granary Books archive. “It’s difficult to fully describe the range and impact of Steve Clay’s Granary Books,” wrote Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress. “Beginning in 1985 he has concocted a mix of poets, artists, printers and craftspeople whose work defines an era and fundamentally shapes our understanding of the artists’ book.”

Granary Books began in Minneapolis, but when Clay first visited New York in 1986, he was quick to see an opportunity. “I came to do a one-week summer class in Columbia’s Rare Book School,” he remembered when we spoke in his Manhattan loft, “my first time in New York. Just coming to the city, getting off the bus at Port Authority, that was it.” Three years later, Clay arrived in New York to stay. After looking for a space on the Lower East Side and Soho to start a bookstore, he joined forces with the poet and bookseller David Abel. I asked him to talk about those first years of Granary Books.

We found 636 Broadway, doing it together with no formal plan. On the tenth floor you could display books, artist’s books, that you couldn’t on the ground floor. I lived there on the couch for months, took showers at David’s on Thompson Street. Milk carton on the window ledge. No kitchen. David knew a lot of people, perfect for a shy guy like me. Dick Higgins of Something Else Press came into the store and so did the poet Jerome Rothenberg, who became and remains essential to Granary. We put on a retrospective show of Something Else Books. Higgins gave me great advice on how to deal with the projects people who came to the store suggested—You’re going to have to find a really nice way to say no.Read More »

The Citadel

September 3, 2015 | by

In his ninety-three years, Chimen Abramsky amassed a vast collection of socialist literature and Jewish history. Here, his grandson Sasha explores some of the rarities.

From the cover of The House of Twenty Thousand Books.

Much later in his life, Chimen turned his eye to cataloging his library. It was a task he stubbornly refused to finish, despite having cataloged many of the world’s most important Judaica libraries for Sotheby’s, despite having even compiled a catalog of catalogs that he would occasionally show to fellow bibliographers. “It takes the magic out of it. It becomes a thing to sell, not a real collection. Once you catalogue the book, it becomes a dead object almost,” was how the rare-books dealer Christopher Edwards, who knew Chimen decades later, interpreted this reluctance. Chimen loved being courted by would-be buyers; adored being taken out to restaurants and clubs, such as the Garrick in central London, where dealers could flatter him by talking about the importance of his collection. But when push came to shove, he did not want to admit that, apart from a few missing pieces (he bemoaned the fact that he did not have any original issues of Marx’s newspaper the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published in Cologne during the revolutionary year of 1848 and into 1849), his collection—his life’s project—was complete. Even when his insurance agent, Will Burns, repeatedly wrote him letters requesting that he provide a catalog of his library, Chimen managed to find one excuse after another. He was too busy; he was traveling; he was ill; he would do it next month. “I had hoped to do it during the summer vacation,” he informed Burns in late October 1981, “but unfortunately, as Miriam had an accident in Israel, I was unable to do so. I hope to complete it towards the end of January.” He did not, and Burns wrote him several more letters on the matter before eventually giving up. The collection remained insured only as general contents; had disaster struck and the House of Books burned to the ground, Chimen would have found, to his horror, that his inability to provide a catalog was a costly oversight.

What Chimen did do, though, was pen a series of memoranda about how he had acquired some of his rarest prizes. He wrote, for example, about how, in the early 1950s, he had managed to buy William Morris’s complete collection of the Socialist League’s journal, The Commonweal, along with the wooden box, with a rexine cover dyed blue and lined with a white feltlike material, that Morris himself had constructed to house a 1539 Bible, and in which, ultimately, he kept his copies of the revolutionary newspaper. The pages of the publication—its words printed in double columns originally on a monthly basis, then later weekly, from 1886 until 1895, and filled with the revolutionary musings of Morris, Marx’s daughter Eleanor, and other radical luminaries of the late-Victorian years—had passed from Morris to his close friend, the typographer Emery Walker; from Walker to his daughter; and from her to a poet named Norman Hidden. Chimen eventually bought it from Hidden for £50. And there they stayed, in their Bible box, high on a wooden shelf in the upstairs hallway at 5 Hillway, for more than half a century. Read More »

Ovid Is Not a Safe Space, and Other News

May 18, 2015 | by

Virgil_Solis_-_Deucalion_Pyrrha

Deucalion and Pyrrha in an engraving by Virgil Solis for Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I.

  • Dag Solstad will appear at our Norwegian-American Literary Festival this week—isn’t it time you get to know him? “A literary provocateur and a national icon, an experimental writer who is also a favorite with the country’s top comedians, Dag Solstad’s belated international breakthrough is in curious contrast to his position in his native country. Only three of his books have been translated into English (a fourth is on its way), but in Norway, Solstad has, at least since the mid 80s, been held up as a paragon of literary merit, his style a kind of gold standard of prose fiction.”
  • Columbia students believe that Ovid’s Metamorphoses should come with trigger warnings—the myths of Persephone and Daphne, after all, include rape. “But the core [curriculum] is not a form of therapy; it’s a form of exposure to diverse ideas, and it should not have the aim of making people feel ‘safe.’ In fact, that’s precisely the opposite of its aim.”
  • Rare book experts are assembling a kind of scholarly justice league to stop the theft and vandalism of historic books worldwide. “Lawyers and librarians, booksellers and auctioneers will descend on the British Library next month for a major conference whose title—‘The Written Heritage of Mankind in Peril’—conveys the seriousness of the problem.”
  • Émilie Du Châtelet, a seventeenth-century scholar of Newton, religion, science, and mathematics, earned plaudits from Kant and had a very visible relationship with Voltaire—but today no one reads her. “It is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.”
  • How to turn fifty if you’re Rob Pruitt: have a barbecue, just like everyone else. But your barbecue will be art. “Pruitt has been able to embrace a peculiar irony that is omnipresent in the art world today: the paradox of a crass, hypervalued luxury market for the world’s super rich, wedded to a left-leaning ideology that sees art as a public good for the common folk … In this curious art world of limousine liberalism, Mr. Pruitt is happy to play chauffeur, more interested in reflecting modern culture than critiquing it.”

The Missing Borges

December 23, 2014 | by

Seven years ago, a stolen first edition of Borges’s early poems was returned to Argentina’s National Library. But was it the right copy?

Jorge_Luis_Borges_1963 Alicia D'Amico

Jorge Luis Borges in 1963. Photo: Alicia D'Amico

The world of rare books and manuscripts is full of intrigues, betrayals, and frauds. Alberto Casares has lived in this world for decades; as the president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Buenos Aires, he’s an expert on the subject. He’s got the physique du rôl: a gray, messy beard; a soft body; an intense and wary look.

A few months ago, Casares was offered a seventeenth-century original edition of Don Quixote for one million euros. He recognized it as a well-known forgery from the nineteenth century, worth no more than €200,000. The seller took it away, determined to find a more unsuspecting client, and Casares was left alone with the melancholy of having lost something that was never his to own.

What would some people give to own it? Casares told me, “Bibliographers are willing to commit crimes to follow their mad desire to own things.” He was thinking of a former client, Daniel Pastore, a collector of rare books and first editions, heir to a pharmaceutical fortune and owner of Imago Mundi, Buenos Aires’s most elegant antiquarian bookshop, which closed a few years ago after a succession of international scandals involving Pastore.

Casares was annoyed and fascinated by Pastore, who was eighteen the first time he walked into Casare’s bookshop. He was handsome, rich, likeable, and learned—a good client. But he was also pedantic; he claimed to know more about rare books than Casares. Sometimes he did. But not when it came to Jorge Luis Borges. Read More >>

Material Objects

October 22, 2014 | by

Lessons from Rare Book School.

Edward Collier, Trompe l'Oeil of Newspapers, Letters and Writing Implements on a Wooden Board, 1699.

Four stories underneath the stately Georgian campus of the University of Virginia, I was with a group of rare-book experts scrutinizing a five-hundred-year-old Italian woodcut of two chubby infants. They framed a capital letter L. One, with a look of insouciant concentration, was thrusting his butt over the downslope of the L to defecate on it.

“The woodcut accompanies Andreas Vesalius’s discourse on the muscles of excretion,” Roger Gaskell, a rare-book dealer based in Cambridgeshire, told the group. It turns out that Vesalius, the Renaissance physician remembered today as the father of modern anatomy, had an intensely strained relationship with his publishers. “This initial letter differs from the others in the book—despite the fact that the printing house had a perfectly good L already cut,” Gaskell said. “So I rather suspect this shitting putti was a message to his publisher.”

Over a coffee break, the members of Gaskell’s seminar mingled with three others led by such luminaries as Mark Dimunation, the chief of the rare-book division at the Library of Congress. They were gathered in a warren of windowless basement rooms for an annual rite of passage in the world of antiquarian texts: Rare Book School. Read More »

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